A meet up where Moms [or Dads] can come with their toddlers ages 12 – 24 months, both with and without special needs, to meet with other Moms, grab a cup of coffee, their toddler’s play with each other, talk about whatever they like.
We understand it can be very isolating to be a Mom [or Dad] at home with a little one, and this is an opportunity to chat, complain, be with others who are facing similar challenges, be inspired, be supported and make new friends.
We meet every other Wednesday in ALLY Advocacy Center, building #625. Come enjoy toys for the toddlers, doughnuts and coffee for the adults, and a little old fashion “grandmotherliness” from Penny Lewis, Administrative Director of Open Door Learning Center.
When: Every other Wednesday starting October 16th, 2019 through January 29, 2020
Time: 10 am – 12 pm
Where: ALLY “A Life Like Yours” Advocacy Center
Arc of Loudoun Campus
601 Catoctin Circle, NE, Bldg #625
Leesburg, VA 20176
Cost: $40 for 8 sessions
For more information, please contact Penny Lewis at email@example.com or 703.777.6010 x251.
For the past four years, Ronan has been attending The Aurora School, (a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities). His ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Instructor, Ashley, describes Ronan as a an awesome, fun kid who’s also very loving,
“He’s always smiling and will come up and give you the biggest hug!”
exclaims Ashley. Ashley goes on to say that the learning style at Aurora has left a huge impact on Ronan,
“Before coming here he couldn’t say much, but now he’s speaking words, and we can understand what he wants.”
Ronan is also learning how to use more verbs in his speech to convey what he needs, and will communicate with his instructors about what is bothering him instead of crying. Aurora’s unique program works for children like Ronan because they’re able to get the individual attention they need, Ashley explains,
“We genuinely care about our students and everyday we teach them appropriate skills they’ll use in their everyday life. We’re able to do all of this through ABA therapy, and I wish more people knew how our [Aurora’s] curriculum works.”
She goes on to say that because of the ABA therapy, and the dedication of the staff Ronan is able to succeed,
“If he keeps learning at this rate, he’ll be unstoppable!”
Katelyn was the first student to attend The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her mom, the previous director of The Arc of Loudoun, started Aurora in 2003 along with all the other programs that are now part of The Arc. Katelyn was only eight years old when she first started attending Aurora and graduated this past August.
At Aurora, Katelyn has learned to become more accepting of changes in her environment. Her Program Director, Maureen, says,
“Before, she wanted to control everything in the environment. If she walked in a room, she wouldn’t like if the lights were turned on, or if other people were talking.”
Katelyn also wouldn’t like if things weren’t in their proper place, but can now tolerate if items have suddenly moved. Maureen states,
“If a notebook was always on the right side of her table and you moved it, she’d have to put it where exactly where it was before. She’s learning to ignore those changes now.”
Furthermore, Katelyn’s academic skills have also improved, she’s able to add and subtract double digits along with balancing a checkbook. Daniel, her ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Instructor, also says her progress with communicating has gotten better,
“Before she had little to no communication. Now she’s clearer to understand when she speaks and is really good at answering ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘where’ questions.”
Daniel says he enjoyed working with Katelyn because of her happy, outgoing, and friendly personality. He states,
“I like working with her because she challenges me and she’s taught me so much about myself. She’s also super fun and is always saying humorous things!”
After being asked why The Arc is so important for students like Katelyn, Daniel responds,
“We’re really the only school like this in this area. And without it [The Arc] a lot of things would fall apart. What we do for all the kids here is huge!”
Sharon and Conner are mother and son who’ve been a part of The Arc of Loudoun community since 2015. The pair are advocates who passed Conner’s Law in Virginia. The law ensures that both parents of children with severe disabilities will pay child support, even after the child has turned eighteen. While attending a rally in Richmond two years ago, Sharon and Conner met Melissa, The Arc of Loudoun’s now Executive Director. Since then, Melissa has provided guidance and support to Sharon and Conner about passing Conner’s Law in other states. Through ALLY (A Life Like Yours) Advocacy Center, Conner has joined Speak Up, which is The Arc’s self-advocacy and public speaking group. Sharon says that Speak Up allowed Conner to learn about advocating for himself and make friends,
“Speak Up gave Conner an opportunity to feel included and he felt like he really fit in.”
Sharon goes on to say that she is very proud to be affiliated with The Arc of Loudoun,
“I’m extremely impressed with The Arc and how much they give back. We’ve met a lot of amazing people here who all contribute so much to the community!”
Before becoming a teacher at the intentionally inclusive preschool known as ODLC (Open Door Learning Center), Crystal was a regular volunteer for The Arc of Loudoun. Crystal explains,
“Four years ago, my daughter Autumn was getting bullied at school and didn’t have the best self-esteem, and then I heard volunteering was a good outlet.”
After searching online, and completing a survey with her daughter’s interests, Shocktober popped up online as a recommendation. Shocktober is The Arc’s biggest fundraiser of the year. The mansion on campus, Paxton Manor, is used as a haunted house where thousands of people come during weekends in October to walk through the house and get a good scare. All of the proceeds go towards one of The Arc’s programs: ALLY (A Life Like Yours) Advocacy Center. Crystal goes on to say,
“The volunteer program looked like it was also catered for adults, so I asked Autumn if I could do it too, and it became something we both got to do together.”
Both Crystal and Autumn would soon fall in love with acting as terrifying characters inside and outside of the haunted mansion where they dubbed it as “scare therapy.” One year after volunteering, they were both asked to join Shocktober’s creative side of the haunt. Crystal says,
“We jumped on board with it! We were then able to help with the behind the scenes stuff, like coming up with new ideas for the haunt.”
Soon, both Crystal and Autumn would start volunteering at more of The Arc’s community events,
“We then started doing face painting at the Spring Festival and Music at the Manor.”
Crystal, with a background in teaching preschool for the past 20 years, would also be asked to join the ODLC team in 2016.
Crystal explains that The Arc does a lot for people with disabilities, but it also helps out the community as a whole,
“I signed up to volunteer in order to help with Autumn’s self confidence and it did amazing things for her! She was having a hard time making friends and dealing with bullies, and coming here– that all went away. Everybody here accepted you no matter what.”
Without The Arc, Crystal doesn’t believe her relationship with her daughter would be as great as it is now saying,
“I wouldn’t be as happy and content. My daughter’s confidence wouldn’t be as strong as it is. And my family would still be struggling with a lot of issues. Volunteers give a lot, but get a lot back as well. I’ve gained so much from working and volunteering here–and so has my daughter.”
Crystal says her favorite thing about working and volunteering for The Arc is the outpouring positivity on campus.
“I love what they do for everybody, it’s such a positive experience! Whether you work here, volunteer here, or get services from here– everything is so positive.”
Furthermore, Crystal explains that she loves working as an instructor at ODLC, because she’s able to build the students up.
“At The Arc we say, ‘Yes you can do that.’ We help them meet their goals.” As for what she wishes more people knew about The Arc, Crystal exclaims, “I wish people knew how welcoming we are! It’s like coming home. I joke that this is my second home, because I’m here so much, but I’m here so much because I love it. This is one my favorite places in the world!”
Katie has been working at The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for the past 10 years. She began as an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) instructor and is now the testing coordinator. She tests each of the students at Aurora so that they meet all of their required goals. Katie’s favorite part of her job is working with the students saying,
“I love the kids. I do. Since I have to prepare all the student’s individual tests, I get to know each of them really well.”
Working with all the students allows Katie to see the progress they’re making, which keeps her motivated and passionate about her job. She exclaims,
“It’s amazing to see the progress, and makes me want to come to work every day! We’re doing something good here [Aurora]. We’re literally changing lives. And not just the kids’ lives but their families’ as well.”
Through the different activities at Aurora, students are able to go on CBI (Community Based Instruction) trips, where they can practice social skills at the grocery store, restaurants, libraries, etc. Katie says,
“Because of CBI, parents are now able to take their kids to the mall or grocery store without a meltdown. They’re able to take them to out to eat for the first time. It’s made all the difference in the world in their lives.”
In addition to working as the testing coordinator at Aurora, Katie also volunteers every year at The Arc of Loudoun’s biggest fundraiser of the year: Shocktober. Katie has a starring role as Mawmaw Carver, one of the spooky line entertainment characters for the popular haunted attraction. She’s been a volunteer and an actor since the fundraiser began eight years ago. Katie says,
“To use my goofy skills [acting as Mawmaw Carver] to help raise that kind of money has been such an unbelievable opportunity.”
Even when she’s in character, Katie still manages to educate all the Shocktober attendees about the importance of the fundraiser stating,
“I tell people what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and where the money goes– and how it will go to good use.”
Katie is also pleased with all of the different ways that The Arc of Loudoun helps the disability community saying,
“We have holiday parties and a Spring Festival, where children with disabilities who may not have the chance to see Santa or the Easter bunny, now get that opportunity. And it’s free and open to the entire community! We also have the Music at the Manor concerts, which is a great event for the community to come and hang out.”
In the future, Katie hopes to continue working at The Arc and help kids to the best of her ability saying,
“I feel good working here. I feel like my life means something. This place makes me feel like, ‘I make a difference.’ If I can get through to a student having a tough time, then I’ve done a good thing. It’s so worth it.”
Jonny has been working at The Arc of Loudoun for the past three years, where started as a member of STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment Program); a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. He is now the Facilities Assistant for the entire campus! His supervisor, Greg, describes Jonny as goofy, honest and empathetic.
“He’s my right hand man– I don’t know what I’d do without his help,” he says. “He’ll also do his best to pick you up when you’re feeling down and makes everybody feel good about themselves.”
At The Arc, Jonny works three times a week where his specializes in landscaping.
“He loves lawn mowing,” says Greg, “but he’ll also do gardening, weeding, painting–he’s versatile in many different skills. And if he doesn’t know how to do it, he can learn very quickly by just watching.”
When Jonny’s not working, he loves to act, sing, and dance– any form of self expression he enjoys. Greg says he and Jonny have volunteered as actors for the past three years in The Arc’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Shocktober, where thousands of people come to walk through the haunted Paxton Manor for a good scare. Greg says,
“Oh, he loves Shocktober! All year he’s asking about it, and he just loves to scare people.”
Greg explains that places like The Arc are so important for people like Jonny because it gives him job experience and legitimate references,
“We give Jonny the freedom to make mistakes, but also to learn from them. Some people will give him a job, but be on his back all day. Not here, we give him that independence.”
Greg goes on to say that Jonny’s future goal is to have a full time job,
“He wants to work every day, all the time, just like you and me. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t enjoy working with him. He’s really a stand up young man!”
“He’s super imaginative and a great storyteller. He’s always making up different stories about his favorite action figures.”
“Their friendship is so awesome, and I love that I get to be a part of it!” She goes on to state that she enjoys working with Jaquan and Owen because they have such different perspectives on life, “Jaquan, in particular, will ask hypothetical questions all the time. It’s really cool to look at things in a different way, through their eyes. They really blow my mind sometimes.”
“Watching their progress and growth is amazing.”
Winfield is a shy, but kind, student at The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities . His ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Instructor, Tara, says she’s seen dramatic progress with Winfield’s communication since attending the school,
“We got him an iPad to communicate and he picked up on it really quickly!”
she exclaimed. Before, Winfield would grab Tara’s arm to express his wants, expecting her to understand what he needed. But now he’s using the iPad to ask for specific things, whether it’s water or a toy.
His ABA Instructors like working with Winfield because he’s a very laid back kid, who “seems genuinely happy to be at school.” They also say he’s a very sweet student,
“He’ll express his emotions by grabbing your hand or hugging you.”
Tara explains that the teaching style at Aurora is such a huge factor in Winfield’s success because the instructors are able to provide so much support for him,
“Individual attention is unheard of at typical schools, but it’s something he completely needs. Here, he’s able to get consistent therapy, whether it’s occupational therapy or music therapy.”
Tara goes on to say that The Arc provides a lot of support for the community in general,
“We’re such a big platform for others. We’ll help parents with their kids through advocacy, and we give so many options for them that other places don’t. Anybody here will jump right in to help you if you need it!”
Ariel is a giddy and joyful six-year-old student at The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Whitney, Ariel’s ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Instructor describes Ariel as the sweetest kid in the world,
“Her personality is just phenomenal.”
For the past year that she’s attended the school, Ariel has been excelling at her various goals.
“Her communication has gotten a lot better. She has ways of letting you know what she wants and doesn’t want,”
says Whitney. Ariel is also able to name items correctly when her instructor asks her to. Whitney states,
“If I ask her to give me a fork, she’s able to find it and give it me, which she wasn’t able to do before.”
One of Ariel’s goals also includes matching items into the correct category, Whitney explains,
“If I have a water bottle, a thermos, or just a cup she’s able to match and indicate that they’re all within the cup category.”
Currently, Ariel is working on brushing her own hair, and simple tasks like picking up her backpack and hanging it in the correct place when she’s asked.
Whitney says Aurora is able to give all kids an opportunity to be themselves since every lesson plan is made to cater the individual student’s needs. Whitney exclaims,
“Here [at The Arc], kids like Ariel are given the chance to be like any other person in the community.”
Ben is a happy, softspoken employee at The Arc of Loudoun. He has been in the STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment) Program for two years, which is a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. Ben comes to Paxton three times a week where he does various tasks on campus, such as helping out in the garden or assisting with the mobile snack cart. Ben’s aid, Ginny, says since being in STEP Up, he has become much more independent,
“Before he would expect for me or his parents to do a lot of tasks for him–but now if you show him the steps, and he gets enough practice, he’ll do it himself.”
In the afternoons, Ben also participates in STEP Up’s afternoon enrichment activities. He’ll enjoy coloring or completing jigsaw puzzles, but he absolutely loves going to Old Ox Brewery where he and the other STEP Up members volunteer their time to help package the brewery’s drinks. This opportunity allows Ben to get real life work experience. Ginny says,
“After seeing him [Ben] at Old Ox, I believe he can definitely try to get a part time job. He’s a hard worker, and once he gets into the swing of things he doesn’t want to stop until the job is done.”
Besides being in the STEP Up program, Ben also volunteers at The Arc’s events outside of work. He and his family have volunteered at The Arc’s biggest fundraiser of the year: Shocktober, where he took money and tickets at the attractions.
Ginny believes The Arc is so important for employees like Ben, because they provide so many advocacy opportunities saying,
“A lot of people don’t know or understand people who are like Ben, and The Arc does a great job of reaching out to the community and educating others.”
She goes on to say that STEP Up has had an extremely positive effect on Ben and herself exclaiming,
“I enjoy being around everybody [at STEP Up] and I love that Ben loves it. He’s made his best friends here!”
Ginny goes on to say that she’s learned so much from being around Ben,
“Because of him I’ve become more patient and kind. And I’m not the only one affected by Ben–anybody who’s around him is instantly happier!”
Tine has been working for The Arc of Loudoun since 2010, where she was initially hired as the Administrative Assistant for the intentionally inclusive preschool on campus, Open Door Learning Center (ODLC), however, she’s been the Director of ODLC for the past five years. As the mother of a child with a disability, Tine loved what The Arc was doing in 2010 and said,
“I met the past Directors of The Arc and loved their passion and knew I needed to be a part of that.”
Soon after telling the Directors she wanted to join the the Paxton team, Tine left her position at another preschool and helped with the creation of ODLC from the ground up. For Tine, working at an intentionally inclusive preschool, for both children with and without disabilities, was incredibly important. She says,
“My son Kyle got kicked out of three different preschools. At ODLC I have never called a parent to pick up their child because of a behavior issue. Ever.”
Tine goes on to explain that she wants to make it as smooth of a road as possible for parents of children with behavior challenges and disabilities stating,
“It was a very, very bumpy road for Kyle growing up, and I don’t want parents, nor the children, to go through what we went through.” She goes on to say, “What I get out of this job is seeing successes. Seeing children talking who couldn’t talk before they came here. It’s seeing children playing with their peers when they didn’t before. It’s having parents know we’re here for them, too. We’re getting kids (and their parents!) kindergarten ready, whether that’s socially, emotionally or academically.”
ODLC started with six kids in 2010, and since then, the school has enrolled students from West Virginia to Maryland, is being referred to by the county school system, and is packed with children. The school was also given accreditation in 2012, which Tine says is her proudest professional accomplishment,
“It wasn’t my effort alone, it was a TEAM effort.”
Now, Tine and her team focus on outreach to the community which includes training other preschools about the principles of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. Tine credits The Arc of Loudoun for teaching her about ABA and the importance of outreach. She says,
“I got sick and tired of kids getting kicked out of schools. We’re doing something different here that works, so now I want to share what we do here with the community.”
Tine has given ABA training to preschools in the surrounding areas who will implement the teachings of ABA in their classrooms.
Seeing the successes of students is what Tine enjoys most about working for The Arc. She also loves how everybody who works for the organization wants to fulfill the same vision. She exclaims,
“We work as a team, and together make sure that the mission is accomplished! We see a need, we fill a need. And everyday at ODLC, we come in with a smile on our face, knowing we’re making a difference in the life of a child.”
After seven years of growing the ODLC program at The Arc of Loudoun, Tine has made the difficult decision, based on personal reasons, to move to Pennsylvania. But she knows that the new leader of the ODLC team (Ms. Megan), will forward Tine’s vision and continue the campus mission. She wishes the best for the preschool program, the children and parents at ODLC past and present, and all of the programs at The Arc, saying,
“The Arc and ODLC will always have a special place in my heart. I’ll miss everyone dearly, but I also can’t wait to see what the future brings to the campus and ODLC!”
Jude is a happy and social student at ODLC (Open Door Learning Center); an intentionally inclusive preschool at The Arc of Loudoun. Megan, the Program Director at ODLC says she “could cry” talking about Jude’s unbelievable progress since attending the school. Megan exclaims,
“It’s crazy to see how far she’s come! When she first started, she couldn’t say single words, and now she’s talking in full sentences. She’s also full of personality in conveying what she’s saying.”
Since attending ODLC for the past two years, Jude is now greeting her teachers and friends, telling stories about her family, and facilitating play between her peers.
Through the 1:1 ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy that ODLC provides, Jude was given the opportunity to expand her communication skills. Megan says,
“Since receiving ABA therapy her language has really blossomed. She’s able to express herself so well, and can communicate her preferences and make choices. She’s become so independent.”
Megan believes the extra coaching and teaching is what kickstarted Jude to start learning in the classroom on her own. Now, Jude prompts her peers to socially interact with each other and initiates her group of classmates to take turns,
“We’ve gone from working with her and teaching her– and now she’s the one who’s teaching her friends” states Megan.
Megan knows it’ll be hard to see Jude move on after she leaves preschool, but she’s fortunate to work at a place like The Arc where she can see the progress amongst all the students exclaiming,
“Everybody here is so dedicated to unlocking the potential of every student who walks through these doors!”
Jocelyn is an upbeat and enthusiastic STEP Up employee at The Arc of Loudoun. She’s been a member of STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment), a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities, for the past year. She works as the receptionist at the ALLY Advocacy Center twice a week. Her duties include greeting ALLY visitors, stocking the mobile snack cart, and completing any office work.
Although she loves working, Jocelyn enjoys the afternoon enrichment activities that the STEP Up program facilitates in the afternoon.
“I liked going on the field trip to the Air & Space Museum,” she said. “We [STEP Up] also volunteer and make sandwiches for people at the homeless shelter which is so fun!”
When Jocelyn isn’t working, she attends many of the events The Arc of Loudoun hosts for its members and the community. She’s watched the sensory sensitive movies at Cobb Theater, attended the annual Spring Festival, and volunteered at the Last Ride attraction for Paxton’s biggest fundraiser of the year: Shocktober. But Jocelyn’s absolute favorite event to attend are the dances exclaiming,
“I love going to the dances. I always have a good time there!” When asked why she likes The Arc, Jocelyn says, “I like working here because it keeps me busy and it’s a lot of fun. Plus, I’ve made so many friends here!”
Megan is the Program Director at ODLC (Open Door Learning Center), an intentionally inclusive preschool on Paxton Campus. She previously worked at The Aurora School as a Team Lead before transferring to the preschool. Megan was immediately attracted to working at The Arc of Loudoun because of how much of a resource they are to the disability community. She says,
“There’s really nothing like The Arc. It’s such an honor to work alongside people who uphold the mission of helping children and families affected by disabilities.”
Megan enjoys working with the ODLC students in particular because of her background in early intervention. She exclaims,
“It’s amazing to see how ABA intervention is making a world of a difference in their lives at such a young age.”
Megan believes ABA therapy plays a huge part in the success of the children, and since students at ODLC are able to participate in ABA therapy as part of their curriculum, Megan has observed countless numbers of students grow in both their behavior and communication skills.
“Some children have difficulty with aggression or they do not have functional forms of communication,” she explains. “But with ABA therapy we’re able to teach them replacement behaviors that are appropriate, like asking instead of yelling for what they want.”
Megan says she loves the ODLC program because she sees enormous improvement in students in a short amount of time. Megan’s observed students who were previously not able to say words now reciting the whole alphabet. She’s also seen progress with children who had difficulty being social, stating,
“Now those same students who would always play alone are engaging with their peers.”
Megan believes The Arc of Loudoun is a great resource for the community exclaiming,
“I feel like the whole campus is an ‘Open Door!’ We are so welcoming through our events, and we are a resource for so many families through our different classes and workshops.”
In the next fifty years Megan hopes The Arc will continue to thrive, grow, and be a light for the community.
Jen is the first smiling face you see when you visit The Arc of Loudoun’s administrative office. Jen came to The Arc after hearing about it from an encounter with a former Arc employee while at her last job. She has been the receptionist for The Arc since 2013. Jen says,
“It really sounded like my place of calling and was something I was immediately interested in. And I soon realized it was where I belonged!”
Since being a part of The Arc team, Jen’s eyes were opened to the large amount of people who needed assistance with daily living tasks– but still weren’t getting the support they needed. As a result, she became a self-advocate for those same people with disabilities, saying,
“I began as a public speaker at age 21 when I joined The Brad Kaminsky Foundation for brain cancer research, but began public speaking on behalf of all programs at The Arc after working here.”
Jen, who grew up with complications from a brain trauma at a young age, was misunderstood and isolated growing up. She says,
“Special Education was new in public schools and I had to continually be persistent to receive help. People with disabilities were put out of sight, out of mind.” Jen goes on to explain why advocating now is so important to her, “I can help change people’s understanding of what a disability is, and educate others about how people with disabilities want to be a part of the community too.”
Jen’s passion for The Arc stems from the fact that the campus is so welcoming. She exclaims,
“What is so unique is that The Arc is an environment of acceptance. That is something I have seldom felt in my life, but it is so alive here among the staff, the students, and the families who are a part of this [The Arc’s] community.”
Jen loves working for The Arc so much she comes to campus even after her work shift is over stating,
“Ever since I came to Paxton I’ve become very active in every social activity. I was someone who needed The Arc, who needed a Paxton Campus growing up, and it’s just so fulfilling for me to now, to go to the Next Chapter Book Club, the Speak Up group, or attend the adult dances.”
She also selflessly volunteers her time at most of the on-Campus fundraisers and events, such as Shocktober and Music at the Manor.
In the future, Jen is extremely excited about the Barns of Paxton that will soon house the Advantage Behavior Clinic and the Ability Fitness Center — all for people with disabilities. She exclaims,
“It [The Barns] will be a shuttle rocket to new orbits for Paxton’s students, families and the community affected by disability. People of all abilities will flourish!”
Immanuel and Elliot are adorable, loving brothers who attend Open Door Learning Center, an intentionally-inclusive preschool at The Arc of Loudoun. Since attending ODLC for the past year and a half, parents Debbie and David have seen a tremendous difference in both of their sons.
“When Immanuel first started at ODLC, he had trouble sitting at circle time, needed extensive help with transitions, and also had trouble playing with other children,” said Debbie. “Now he’s expanded his socialization and kindergarten readiness skills.”
Since being enrolled at ODLC, Elliot has also made progress in learning the basics of school schedules, behavior expectations, and was potty trained by the staff.
Furthermore, Debbie and David have also seen development in both of their children’s communication skills. Immanuel improved on expressing his feelings and desires. Before attending ODLC, the parents were also concerned about Elliot’s verbal development, he was only saying two to three word phrases. Since then they say,
“His vocabulary and enunciation have improved dramatically. Now he prattles on in full sentences.”
Both boys enjoy going to school every day because of the awesome staff. However, Elliot in particular absolutely adores the teachers and must hug each of them every day! Debbie and David love the staff too, exclaiming,
“They are all dedicated to our children’s optimal development. Each of them are incredibly supportive, caring, and are continually thinking of ways to make the program more effective for each child.”
Without ODLC, Debbie and David believe Immanuel would not be in nearly as healthy a place as he is now in terms of socialization and being comfortable and confident in a school setting. They say,
“ODLC creates a safe and supportive space for our children to grow and learn with their unique styles. The staff know how to work with our children’s specific needs, strengths, and challenges.”
They only wish more preschools would take advantage of ODLC’s expertise in non-typical issues such as behavior management, social challenges, and communication stating,
“These early and effective interventions are reducing and even eliminating the need for more serious interventions later on. The curriculum really works, and I could not be more appreciative of ODLC.”
Patrick attended The Aurora School (a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities) for the past eight years and graduated this June. His program director, Maureen, describes Patrick as a genuinely happy student who is extremely hard working. Maureen says,
“He loves being productive, and isn’t happy if if he’s not getting something done.”
While at Aurora, Patrick’s favorite activity is sorting beads and markers by colors– which he can do all day. Maureen notes,
“Patrick is also an excellent speller, and he likes playing different crossword and wordsearch apps on his iPad.”
Patrick is so good at spelling he’s even learned how to communicate with others through writing out a word or spelling out each letter if they can’t understand him, something he learned how to do all on his own.
Throughout the years of attending Aurora, Patrick’s learned to become more flexible with abrupt changes in his schedule. He’s also learned how to take turns, like when playing board games, and has become more social with his peers. Some of Patrick’s current goals include: learning to identify whether a clothing item is acceptable to wear (if it’s clean or dirty), taking inventory of the cleaning supplies he uses, and staying on track for all his tasks (with minimal guidance from his instructors). Five times a week Patrick goes on CBI (Community Based Instruction) trips which allows him to take the skills he learns in the classroom out into the community. Patrick either goes to the yoga studio where he cleans and takes inventory, the Giant grocery store where he picks out different items from a list, or various restaurants where he is able to practice ordering food from his iPad. Maureen says,
“The support we [The Arc of Loudoun] provide through these activities significantly increases success of students like Patrick.”
Furthermore, Maureen believes The Arc is so important to the community because the staff are able to teach important life skills to students who are in an impressionable part of their lives. Maureen states,
“This campus is so unique, and we’ve become the model for what other people want to emulate.”
For the past year, Kyle has been a member of the STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment) Program at The Arc of Loudoun; a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. However, he’s been a part of The Arc of Loudoun community since 2010, when his mom, Christine, started working at the Open Door Learning Center preschool on campus. Since then, Kyle, now 21, has volunteered as an assistant teacher at ODLC and has had other miscellaneous tasks, such as data entry, for the various programs at The Arc of Loudoun.
Volunteering and working at The Arc of Loudoun has allowed Kyle to learn many different skills. “It’s [The Arc] helped me learn how to be responsible and I’ve gained more experience with social interaction,” he said. By gaining these skills, Kyle was able to secure a job at Noodles & Company in Leesburg, where he takes orders as a cashier, prepares the meals, and helps the customers. One of Kyle’s passions is cooking, and he teaches his fellow STEP Up colleagues how to cook different meals three times a month. Once a month Kyle also prepares for all his meals– where makes a list of all the ingredients and materials for his dish. Kyle makes a variety of dishes, but he loves cooking Italian food which is why he’s grateful that The Arc provided him the opportunity to gain work experience in order to become an employee at Noodles & Company.
Kyle aspires to become a professional chef, and he is now able to add both his experience from conducting cooking classes through STEP UP and his job at Noodles & Company to his resume when he applies to culinary school. Kyle believes he wouldn’t be where he is now without The Arc of Loudoun stating,
“This place is really special to me. It’s helped me grow, develop, and unlock my hidden potential. No one would have an excuse to feel angry here at a place like this.”
Dawn has been working at The Aurora School for more than ten years, and as a veteran staff she is the most cherished. Before becoming the receptionist at Aurora, she was an instructor at the school for seven years, where she helped students with their daily goals. Kendra, the Interim Director of Aurora says,
“Dawn is the first smiling face you see when you come here [Aurora]! We depend on her for so many things to make our day go more smoothly. The kids love her, and we love her too!”
Dawn explains why Aurora is so important to her saying,
“It’s given me the opportunity to learn how to interact with both typical and non-typical children. Plus, before coming to Aurora I had no idea what Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy was. Everything I learned about ABA, I learned at Aurora. And now, ABA helps me with my eight-year-old niece. I now know what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.”
Working with all the students is one of Dawn’s favorite things about Aurora.
“The best thing about working here is seeing the results of children’s progress,” she says. “Some students have graduated, some have gone back to mainstream public school, or joined STEP Up.”
She has no plans to leave Aurora anytime soon exclaiming,
“I like what we do and what we stand for, and I also love the students and my co-workers! The support here is amazing, too. If somebody goes into crisis, everybody comes running, no hesitation whatsoever.”
In the next 50 years, Dawn hopes more people will know about The Arc of Loudoun stating,
“The outreach and support at The Arc is great. I just wish more people knew what a wonderful place we are and how much we help people and the community. I don’t know of any other places like us and I feel like families would probably be struggling a lot if we weren’t here. It’s really amazing to have all the various programs here on one campus, united under The Arc.”
Tiara’s radiant personality will make anybody who sees her on Paxton Campus smile. She works as the receptionist for the ALLY Advocacy Center three times a week through STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment Program); a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. Some of Tiara’s tasks include: delivering mail on campus, greeting the guests at ALLY, making copies, and shredding papers.
Since being in STEP Up, Tiara has grown to be more independent. In fact, one of her main jobs on campus is to sell items from a mobile snack cart to the employees and bus drivers at The Arc– which she does completely alone. She restocks and organizes the snacks and drinks on the cart, which has several names including “Snax on Pax” and “Bart the Cart”, and she manages the money from the sales. Sometimes Tiara works with another member of Step Up in order to serve more customers. Tammy Goddard, ALLY program director, says
“Tiara is a great sales person – she loves to bring around the snack cart and if she knows you like a certain drink or snack, she puts it aside for you.”
Once Tiara has completed her work shift in the morning, she enjoys being social with everybody on campus. People know when Tiara is on campus because they’ll hear her greeting anybody she sees! She loves to ask people about their pets and asks how their pets are doing, because she loves animals as much as people. She usually ends the conversation by telling them to make sure that they give their pets a hug and a kiss from her.
Tiara is also very adept at making handmade cards for everybody at The Arc of Loudoun.
“She is a like a one-woman Hallmark store – she’s always making sure she is on top of making every single person on campus a birthday card, a get well card, or a going away card if they are leaving,” says Tammy. “She also makes a point to ask everyone who stops in ALLY what their two favorite colors are, and she draws pictures and cards for all of the new clients when they come in.”
Besides creating cards, Tiara enjoys just being able to work at The Arc of Loudoun, saying,
“I can’t imagine working anywhere else, being here makes me so happy!”
Tammy first heard about The Arc of Loudoun in the Spring of 2011, after her son was diagnosed with a motor skills disability. She was advised to get an advocate, in which she researched online and found The Arc. After meeting with ALLY (A Life Like Yours) Advocacy’s past directors to discuss plans regarding her legal rights as a parent of a child with disabilities, she knew she needed to be a part of The Arc,
“It was infectious–how passionate they [the ALLY directors] were and it caught on to me! I decided then and there that I wanted to work there and be contributing to helping other families.”
Tammy initially worked at the front desk of The Aurora School, a school for students with disabilities located on Paxton Campus. She would later become ALLY’s Program Director. Tammy explains,
“The Arc became important to me because of my son, it stayed important to me because my son is just one out of the thousand people we help every year. My son did the social skills group, he goes to all the sensory sensitive movies, and the Spring Festival. My daughter volunteers with Shocktober and did siblings shops (workshop for siblings of people with disabilities). I’ve gotten IEP (Individualized Education Plan) help and gone to parent support groups here. The whole family has been helped.”
Throughout her time working for The Arc, Tammy has given back to the community through all the programs ALLY hosts.
“We help people with disabilities, but also help people in need. My favorite program is the Holiday Giving Program. Last year we helped give presents to 191 families, who would otherwise not have any gifts. It’s very rewarding!”
In the fall of 2011, Tammy created Maggie’s Closet, which provides free clothing to families in need. Maggie’s first started in a small office in one of the buildings on Paxton Campus, but expanded after just one week. Tammy exclaims,
“What I loved about it is that people just want to give! They want a reason to be excited, want a reason to help. There’s so much generosity in the community–which I hoped for, but didn’t realize until I started working here.”
Whether it’s gifting presents to those in need or creating Maggie’s Closet, Tammy is constantly looking for new and creative ways to help others through The Arc, saying
“There’s just so many different ways that people can help and be helped here. It’s the best thing about working here.”
Her newest goal is to revamp the volunteer program for ALLY. She plans to start a mentoring program, where volunteers have an opportunity to know more of the members of The Arc and teach them new skills.
Tammy believes there’s no other organization like The Arc, stating
“Where else can you go to get help with your IEP, watch a sensory sensitive movie, get a backpack for school supplies, and get a prom dress for your daughter? We serve so many different facets of life for people with disabilities.”
Because of this, she hopes in the next 50 years The Arc will be an example for other agencies and nonprofit to model themselves after saying,
“It’s the stuff we do, plus the amazing people we serve, plus the people that work here. It’s such a good combination.”
Saul and Abe are twin brothers who’ve been attending The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for the past three years. Although they look exactly alike, their personalities greatly differ. Saul is independent, and he enjoys completing tasks without any help. His Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Instructor, John, says he’s very determined,
“Once he [Saul] starts something, he needs to finish it. He likes to get everything just right.”
Abe, on the other hand, is not as much of a perfectionist as Saul. Abe’s ABA instructor, Kay, describes him as creative,
“He [Abe] likes Pinterest, colors, and playing the piano– especially the “Rugrats” theme song,” she says.
Although their personalities are different, the staff and learning style at Aurora has been able to accommodate both of the boys’ needs. Through ABA therapy, Saul and Abe are improving their communication skills. John and Kay state,
“The teaching style here [Aurora] really helps them. They now know how to talk about how they are feeling, and explain why they’re feeling a certain way.”
While at Aurora, the boys are learning vocational skills, such as washing their hands, adaptive behavior management, and identifying safety signs in the community.
John says, “Saul also loves to cook and that’s a skill he’s learning at Aurora. His favorite foods to make are french toast and pancakes!”
John and Kay explain that they enjoy working with Saul and Abe because of their goofy and lovable personalities, exclaiming,
“They love dancing and can do the ‘cha-cha slide.’ They’re both so silly and unique in their own way, which makes them so fun to be around!”
Because of schools like Aurora and the services provided by The Arc of Loudoun, kids are given the opportunity to succeed. Kay says,
“The staff know how to handle all types of behaviors here, which allows all of the students to be themselves.”
Rena has been working for the Arc of Loudoun since 2007. She began as an instructor at The Aurora School, a school for children with developmental disabilities; primarily autism. Since 2011, she’s worked at the Open Door Learning Center, an intentionally inclusive preschool for children with and without disabilities, located on the Paxton Campus. When speaking about her career at The Arc, Rena becomes emotional.
“I love doing this because I know I’m helping somebody and making their life better,” she says. “I can really see the growth in children, and I see them open up and blossom–it’s a wonderful feeling…I love it!”
Rena constantly sees changes in the children because of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. She’s experienced children who never even said “Hi”, to now interacting with their peers on the playground and initiating conversations. Her favorite thing is to see success! She says ABA therapy changes people’s lives. And when parents tell her what a difference it makes– that’s one of the goals, knowing that it’s making a difference in people’s lives.
“It makes me so happy!” Rena exclaims. “Moreover, knowing that the children will now be able to thrive in the community because of schools like Aurora and ODLC, it’s what keeps me motivated.”
She hopes that The Arc will continue grow even bigger and reach out to more people.
“There are programs, but there are no programs like this,” Rena states. “I would hope in the next 50 years, The Arc expands into different school districts, different counties, and even different states! There is no limit on what The Arc can do to help the community!”
Matthew’s been described as a very dedicated employee at STEP Up, the Supported Training and Employment Program of The Arc of Loudoun that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. Before joining STEP Up, Matthew graduated from The Aurora School (a school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 5-22 on Paxton Campus). After discovering Aurora, Matthew’s father Jim said he saw a tremendous difference in Matthew.
“I felt like I finally found a place with trained instructors who knew how to handle Matthew’s behavior,” he said. “Before attending Aurora, Matthew would become aggressive when he was given a demand, but now, after graduating from the school and joining STEP Up, his negative behavior has been slowly diminishing.”
Each day at The Arc, Matthew learns to be more independent. His main responsibility is cleaning the various buildings on campus, which he absolutely loves. Mary, his former STEP Up coordinator says,
“You knows he’s [Matthew] working hard because you’ll hear the squeaking of the windows as he cleans them. He’s the best cleaner and most hard working employee you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t want to take a break until the job is done!”
With the support and training of both Aurora and STEP Up staff, Matthew was able to start working part time, where he cleans office spaces for two companies twice a week. Working as a part time employee gives Matthew more independence and freedom, which he enjoys. Matthew continues to learn more skills at STEP Up, such as time management, following lists, and increasing the duration of his work.
Sometimes while Matthew’s working, he likes to ‘script’ from game shows. (Scripting is a common occurrence among those with autism which involves repetitive reciting of lines from movies, tv shows, books, etc. and believed to be a coping mechanism). He quizzes all of The Arc office employees by asking them different questions and answers from the shows he watches. It’s like a fun game for him, and for the employees as well!
One of Mary’s favorite things about Matthew is his affectionate gestures.
“Matthew is very sweet,” she states. “He doesn’t talk very much, but he’ll show he has a bond with you by coming over and squeezing your arms, giving you a thumbs up, or hugging you–always a highlight of my day.”
In the future, his supervisors and his dad, Jim, hope that Matthew will have a full time job where he can reach his maximum potential.
Kendra is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at The Arc of Loudoun. She has been working for The Arc for eight-and-a-half years, where she started as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist at The Aurora School, a year-round day school for children with developmental disabilities; mainly autism. She initially heard about Aurora while searching for programs for her son, Cannon, to attend. After touring the school in 2008, Kendra was immediately impressed by the ABA therapy the instructors were practicing with the students. She was so impressed, in fact, that she moved her family to Loudoun County in the hopes that Cannon could one day attend Aurora. Although Cannon, now 17, would later attend public school, Kendra would begin her career as an ABA therapist at Aurora.
Kendra’s desire to become an ABA therapist grew after seeing how effective ABA therapy was for Cannon, who has autism.
“I knew I wanted to become a therapist and help children with the same needs,” she said.
In her duties with The Arc, she is currently Clinical Director of the Paxton Advantage Behavior Clinic and a behavior consultant to students at The Aurora School, the preschool students at Open Door Learning Center, and the employees at STEP Up (a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities).
Seeing the progress the students and employees make is one of Kendra’s absolute favorite things about working at The Arc of Loudoun.
“Through ABA therapy, I have seen astronomical success in students who went from not communicating at all to being able to read text, sign words, and talk vocally!” she exclaimed.
She’s also witnessed students’ severe aggressive and self-injurious behavior decrease through ABA therapy.
Later this year, Kendra will be there for the grand opening of the Advantage Behavior Clinic on Paxton Campus. The clinic will allow people, like Cannon, who may not have had the opportunity to attend schools like Aurora the chance to still get the support they need– whether that’s learning communication or social skills. Kendra is thrilled about opening the clinic, and one of her desires is to create a wraparound approach where the staff at The Arc can work together with the public school teachers and their after school activities to practice social skills with a variety of students. In addition, she hopes through this approach everyone will know the effectiveness of ABA therapy and how it works.
Without The Arc, Kendra believes families would be at a great loss. She explains how The Arc is filling a need in the community by helping children and adults with disabilities live “a life like yours.” Programs and workshops at The Arc like CBI (Community Based Instruction) and the new Pathways to Justice Training, allow people with disabilities the opportunity to interact with community members such as bus drivers, cashiers, or police officers. These programs greatly benefit both the individuals with disabilities along with the community members as they learn to interact with each other. Kendra explains the importance of all the programs at The Arc stating,
“I wish more people knew that we are able to fulfill the gaps in the community with more volunteers and more funding. If they fund it, we can do it. We’re willing to put in the hard work, we just need the resources.”
Within the next 50 years, Kendra hopes The Arc will expand its programs all while “doing what they do best” which is helping the community.
Madison is an energetic student at The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the past five years since she’s been attending Aurora, Madison has learned academic skills, along with how to connect with people–whether it be with her peers or with staff. Maggie, Madison’s Applied Behavior Analysis Instructor, says,
“All the staff here know Madison. She’s very outgoing and makes friends with everybody! She’s one spit fire of a gal.”
Throughout her time at Aurora, Madison has learned general safety skills such as reading signs (like “danger”, “exit”, and “enter”) along with learning basic household chores, like doing laundry. Madison continues to learn other skills at Aurora, like how to advocate for herself.
Some of Madison’s favorite activities at Aurora include listening to her favorite band (O.A.R), playing on the tire swings, and socializing with the staff and students. Maggie says,
“I love Madison’s charisma, and her love for life! She’s very much herself all the time and we’ve really grown to have a great friendship.”
Maggie wishes more people knew how The Arc of Loudoun and Aurora provides students with different learning styles.
“The Arc gives children so many opportunities to learn,” she says. “More people should be able to see, in person, how much growth and progress our students make.”
Drew is a hard-working employee at The Arc of Loudoun. He’s been a member of the STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment) Program for two years, which is a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. He first discovered The Arc of Loudoun after he and his mom attended the ALLY Advocacy Center’s Transition Series, a workshop that helps families with young adults with disabilities transition out of the public school system at age 22.
Drew, who has high-functioning autism, says he’s incredibly grateful for STEP Up, and is always excited to go to work every morning! He takes pride in his daily tasks, which range from changing light bulbs to mulching and mowing the 17-acre grounds of Paxton. Once his morning shift is over, Drew participates in STEP Up’s afternoon enrichment activities.
“I enjoy visits from Nic the therapy dog and taking field trips to places like the National Air and Space Museum,” he says. “But going to Top Golf is my personal favorite!”
Not only is Drew an employee The Arc of Loudoun, he’s also an advocate for people with special needs. Since participating in The Arc’s self-advocacy and public speaking group Speak Up, Drew has learned how to advocate for himself. Last year, Drew and other members of Speak Up traveled to Richmond; where he had the opportunity to speak directly to state lawmakers about transportation and group homes for people with disabilities.
Drew says he’s also learned how to be safe in the community through programs like ALLY’s ‘PILE’ (Positive Interaction with Law Enforcement) initiative on campus. This program teaches law enforcement personnel how to interact and with people with disabilities. Drew explains that programs like these are one of the reasons why The Arc of Loudoun is important to him saying,
”Being here helps to keep me safe. I have special needs, I have high-functioning autism. There are a lot of people with special needs around here, and Paxton benefits the whole community!”
Meet Trish Thomason, mom to 17-year-old Eric, a student at The Aurora School. Before her family moved from Colorado to Virginia, Trish researched different schools for Eric to attend, which is how she discovered The Arc of Loudoun and Aurora. Eric thrives in a smaller, inclusive, structured environment, so Aurora was the perfect fit for him. In the one and half years since Eric’s been attending Aurora, Trish has seen a huge improvement.
“His focusing and ability to do tasks has gotten much better,” she says. “He also has better self-regulation of his emotions. And he’s happy! There’s definitely been schools where he didn’t want to go at all, and that doesn’t happen now. He gets excited about different things happening at school every single day.”
Not only does Eric attend The Aurora School, he also participates in many of the events that The Arc of Loudoun holds for its members. He enjoys doing adaptive yoga, art classes, and he absolutely loves music therapy. Eric’s even volunteered at The Arc’s annual fundraising event, Shocktober. After graduating from Aurora, Trish hopes Eric will join STEP Up, a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities.
“He loves animals and wants a giraffe as a pet. I want to give him the opportunity to work with animals, even just once a week. And that can be a place that can meld his interests with something that can grow within The Arc or Paxton Campus family.”
Trish loves The Arc of Loudoun because of the people.
“The people and staff are my favorite thing!” she exclaims. “Eric doesn’t get to just deal with his staff, but with other people from different programs as well. This allows Eric, and all the students, more opportunities for a wider social network.” She says The Arc’s efforts to incorporate individuals into the community is huge. “And that’s what I like about it. I like that they’re taking steps to let our kids be involved in the community, as well as bringing the community in to appreciate what our kids do. I think that’s so important.”
Trish also believes it’s important to give back to an organization that has given her so much, which is why she volunteers once a week with STEP Up.
“Ever since Eric started, I’ve volunteered at every program he’s been at. I come whenever I have free time, it’s a way to give back to them. I think it’s important to be involved. I want my kid happy and safe and I’ll work with any program that’ll let that happen.”
In the future, Trish hopes that more people will know about The Arc.
“I need it. Everybody needs it. I don’t have to spend so much time researching what’s out there about my kid’s future. The Arc has taken so many of those steps [of researching] away from us, which allows us to spend more time with our kids.”
Aidan is an enthusiastic student at The Aurora School on Paxton Campus. His infectious laugh can often be heard resonating throughout the entire building! He’s extremely musical and is always asking when he can enjoy his favorite activity: playing his piano keyboard. However, before attending Aurora, this simple act of asking would’ve been impossible– since he could initially only communicate using three pictures. Today, after six years of instruction at Aurora, Aidan can use sign language, express his thoughts through the use of an iPad, read over 100 words, and is now learning to talk. As Aidan conquers his communication skills, he continues to learn countless new skills that will provide him the chance to thrive in the community with his peers and live a more independent life. Hailey, Aidan’s lead Applied Behavior Analyst Instructor explains the importance of Aurora,
“The Aurora School and The Arc of Loudoun provides young adults, like Aidan, the opportunity to learn and grow into their full potential. I wish more people knew about the amazing progress our students make using ABA (instructional methods), and how all of the Aurora staff are striving to provide our students with, ‘A Life Like Yours.’”
Meet Masih, a bright and cheerful eight-year-old student at The Aurora School. Vanessa, his lead Applied Behavior Analysis instructor, has seen tremendous growth in Masih since the beginning of the school year in September. Before coming to Aurora, Masih struggled going to new places, but now he looks forward to visiting the public library or stopping by the grocery store. He continues to learn lifelong skills at Aurora: from learning to share with others, to washing his hands independently, to allowing peers to be physically near him– now, he’s always asking for hugs! Vanessa believes it’s important for kids who are on the autism spectrum, like Masih, to have the opportunity to attend schools like Aurora that provide different learning strategies for all types of students. Vanessa is extremely proud of Masih’s progress saying,
“I enjoy knowing and working with everyone at Paxton Campus, but what an honor to work closely with Masih…the skills he learns at Aurora he will keep for a lifetime.”